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Function of Juries & Jurors Doing Justice | 21 Feb 2014

-Jury Refuses to Ruin Teen’s Life Over Tasteless Joke

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Jury BoxAfter just 45 minutes of deliberations, a jury today refused to ruin a teen’s life over his tasteless joke.

North Attleboro High student found innocent in school threat trial

Patrick Skrabec, who spent six days in jail over the Christmas holiday after his arrest, was found innocent of threatening to commit a crime and disturbing a school assembly after a two-day trial.

He was 17 when he was arrested Dec. 21, 2012, by North Attleboro police after an investigation into statements Skrabec made about shooting up the school while in math class three days earlier. Skrabec claimed he was only joking with a friend.

In December of 2012, then 17-year-old high school student Patrick Skrabec was held in jail for 6 days over an alleged threat he made to shoot up his school, just days after the mass murder at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut. Skrabec said that his comment during his math class was just a private joke between friends. During a dangerousness hearing in court, the teen’s lawyer pointed out that Skrabec had no access to guns, no prior criminal record, and no disciplinary problems. He was subsequently released on $10,000 bail.

Skrabec was initially charged with making a false report of a firearm capable of causing damage-a felony punishable by a minimum 3-year prison sentence. He pleaded not guilty to this charge, and two months later the felony charge was dropped and replaced by two lesser charges of threatening to commit a crime and disturbing a school assembly. A possible deal was at one point on the table to avoid a trial, with the prosecution recommending two years of probation plus mental health counseling and the defense recommending three months probation. The judge in the case rejected both offers, instead offering a sentence of (a) two years probation, with the possibility of excusing the second year if the first year was completed successfully, and (b) mental health counseling unless the probation department was informed counseling was no longer necessary. Skrabec opted instead for a jury trial.

While awaiting his trial, this young man who was supposedly dangerous enough to be imprisoned for 3 years was allowed to return to school and complete his junior year after serving a suspension. He is now a senior and expects to graduate this spring.

In arguing for her client, Skrabec’s attorney, Maria Deaton, told the jury, “Maybe it was in poor taste and maybe it was inappropriate. But that doesn’t mean he is a criminal or had criminal intent.” Assistant District Attorney Anthony Riccio sounded about as reasonable as many other prosecutors intent on winning rather than doing justice, arguing to the jury that, “Just because it was a mistake does not make it excusable. It doesn’t mean it’s not a crime.”

Most teenagers are not adults. Scientific evidence suggests that younger people’s brains are typically not fully developed, and most have not developed to the same same level of judgement, insight, inhibitory control, and decision-making as most adults.

Should it truly be our social policy to criminalize victimless behavior teens engage in, perhaps as a function of their biology? Is our best solution to tactless behavior to destroy a person’s life by sentencing him to years in prison, destroying his relationships and damaging his educational and economic opportunities for the rest of his life? That’s the best we can do? Fortunately, the jury’s answer to that was “No.”

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